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Page Turner: Six Questions on Men and Feminism for Author Shira Tarrant

We all know that feminist guy, right? The one who successfully sideswiped years of Neanderthal behavior to forge a path to guyville uniquely his own. And I'm not talking about the guy who wears a "This Is What a Feminist Looks Like" T-shirt and calls it a day. I'm talking about the men in our lives who acknowledge the feminine within them every day, without shame, and who stand up for women's rights as easily as they stand up to pee greet you. These are men who understand the value of feminism and of doing feminism to better girls' and women's lives in a culture as waywardly misogynistic as ours can be.

Author and women's studies professor Shira Tarrant, Ph.D., has written a book to celebrate that guy and to indoctrinate all men into understanding why feminism is not just about girls and women. Her book, Men and Feminism, is part of Seal Press' academic Seal Studies series and covers not only the history of men and feminism, but gender theory, constructing masculinity, masculine privilege, and how all men can—and why they must—get involved in feminist action.

Page Turner interviewed Tarrant about what led her to become an expert in masculinities, why feminism is relevant to men, speaking plainly about men's violence, and what men lose in pursuit of the "hypermasculine ideal."

Page Turner: You're an expert in masculinities, and in addition to writing Men and Feminism, you edited the anthology Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power. What personally prompted you to, as you write, "think more courageously and deeply about masculinity"?

Shira Tarrant: I felt like it was important to use language that brings intellect, conviction, and heart to writing about masculinity and progressive change. Gender analysis is analytical and political, but it's also deeply personal. It takes bravery to speak up and to shake the dust off aspects of everyday life that we sometimes take for granted. I wanted to invite readers to join me in this challenge.

The other reason I approached this subject and suggested that we think more courageously and deeply about masculinity is this: We're far more comfortable talking about women surviving sexual assault, adding public lighting for safety, or how women ought to earn fair wages. It's a whole different thing to shift the focus to men and masculinities. It's one thing to say, "women shouldn't be raped." It's a different challenge to say, "men need to stop raping."

Drawing attention to men and masculinities in this way means calling out men—and the culture at large. We can't avoid it, even while men can be our allies. None of us are above critique, and we're all in this messy struggle together. But it's a struggle that can threaten the power structure, and we need to be courageous about this and be willing to go deep.

PT: Men and Feminism arises from what you call a common question, which is "why is feminism relevant to men?" Does it surprise you that our culture is still at a relatively base point in understanding that movements for gender equality ultimately benefit us all? And, since you've essentially written a book on the topic, what's your short answer to this question?

Shira Tarrant: Yeah, sometimes I'm really surprised, because it seems so obvious. The more everyone thrives, the more we all benefit.

There may be a time and place for single-sex organizing, but feminism is relevant to men, and there are lots of ways men can get involved in feminist issues. There's definitely a place for men in advocating for reproductive freedom, ending male violence, promoting pay equity, preventing sexism—the list goes on.

Feminism is also relevant to men, and genderqueers and transgender folk, because feminism is an inclusive social movement. The way I put it in Men and Feminism is that feminism is about taking action in the interest of women and also on behalf of all groups that are affected by hegemonic power.

Thinking of feminism as a girls-only club would make feminism a political movement with inclusive goals but with exclusive membership. That doesn't even make logical sense! Some guys might think they're not welcome, or it simply might not occur to them to get involved, but there's plenty of work to be done. By analogy, for men to think that feminism is for someone else is like white people thinking that racism isn't relevant to them. Of course it is! And we need all hands on deck to make serious change.

Really shifting our cultural politics and our unspoken systems of advantage means that people with unearned privilege and power must be willing to examine our own roles in perpetuating the problems. We also must be willing to create solutions. The burden of this work can't fall entirely on those who already carry the burden of the problem.

PT: You quote many scholars on male feminism, including John Stoltenberg, who wrote: "As I watched guys trying to prove their fantasy of manhood—by doing dirt to women, making fun of queers, putting down people of other religions and races—I realized they were doing something really negative to me, too, because their fear and hatred of everything 'nonmanly' was killing off something in me that I valued."

You've interviewed countless men and women across gender, sexuality, race, and religious lines about hypermasculinity. What's being killed off inside men in pursuit of this so-called hypermasculine ideal?"

ST: Their full range of humanity. Hypermasculinity is only one way of doing manhood. And it's limiting. It wrings so much of the potential for relating with others and for self-understanding. Besides, posing like a hard-ass has gotta get exhausting!

PT: In a recent New York Times op-ed titled "Women at Risk," columnist Bob Herbert wrote: "We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected. ... Life in the United States is mind-bogglingly violent. But we should take particular notice of the staggering amounts of violence brought down on the nation's women and girls each and every day for no other reason than who they are. They are attacked because they are female."

What did you think of the column, especially as it appears in a mainstream press? This passage, at least, reminds me of the "linguistic shape-shifting" you write about in Men and Feminism, where people obscure men's responsibility for violence against women from their language.

ST: There was a lot of discussion in the feminist blogosphere about Herbert's piece. The conversations I read were by female feminists. On the one hand, there was a sense that women had been calling out misogyny for years, decades, centuries. And then along comes a man who has column space and huge visibility through the New York Times. Some women were pissed, because it seemed that the media listened more when a man talked about issues that women have been vocalizing for so long.

I've said exactly what Herbert wrote in his column—that if any other single group of people were being systematically assaulted there would be mass public outrage. The problem is that violence against women is so often invisible. Or it happens so often it just seems normal. Violence against women is even fodder for entertainment. The story plots of entire TV shows and films revolve around violence against women. Can you imagine seeing similar story lines—on a regular basis—that revolved around systematic violence or sexual assault against another single group of people? People would be speaking out, boycotting, demanding change.

Another argument that emerged right after Herbert's column was published was that if people pay more attention to the issues because a man is saying it, then fine! The point is to end male violence against women.

Both perspectives have merit. Women have been talking about rape, assault, and violence for a very long time. But as I say in my books, it's not women's job to fix these problems alone. We need everyone on board. That makes sense strategically. There's strength in numbers. But this also a moral, ethical, and logical issue. We need men involved in violence prevention. The best way to solve the problem of men's violence against women is for men to not be violent in the first place. So doesn't it make sense that men need to be involved and talking with each other?

There's a huge problem in news reporting and media, more generally, where women are identified as victims, but men are remain invisible—as men—when they are the perpetrators. Jackson Katz talks about this a lot in his book Macho Paradox. There's a huge difference between saying "a woman was raped" and saying "a man raped a woman." The latter sentence is still very challenging for us to hear, because it calls out the person who assaults and removes women from the victim role.

PT: Who or what are the best pop culture models of positive masculinity that you know of today? And who are the worst offenders (or who's just mixing it up quite radically or frustratingly)?

ST: Would somebody please take the music from Eminem's "Crack A Bottle" and give it new lyrics? I just thought I'd put that request out there.

I keep plugging Rafael Casal, because I think he's doing amazing, creative, powerful stuff. He's a slam poet who takes on politics and power, masculinity and gender relations. I hope he gets big, Big, BIG!

Who else? Hmmm . . . that's a tough one! My friends know that I'm absolutely fascinated by Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold character on Entourage. I have feminist friends who won't even watch the show. There's something so intriguing about Piven's role. Maybe it's the massively rigid ego boundaries. But you know exactly what his character's about. There's no guessing, no duplicity, no fancy feminist footwork acting as cover-up for more roguish behavior. I find that wildly refreshing. I know I'll take heat for saying that. I already do.

PT: What should we teach our sons—and all children—about what it means to be a man, and how to become a man who is different from the dominant hypermasculine model without fear or shame?

ST: I'm big on child-centered ways of being with kids. What I mean by that is being respectful, listening, acknowledging children's feelings and desires, respecting their autonomy, their creativity, their right to say no, and their right to say yes. When we do that, we foster models of being in the world that enables kids to grow up feeling entitled to be who they are and to love and care about themselves and others.

This also means teaching kids the vocabulary of emotion, so they can express themselves. A lot of dominant hypermasculinity involves limiting the options that boys and men have for expressing themselves. There might be fear or shame in rejecting domininant, hypermasculine models of boyhood and manhood. But what a difference that would make to have the ability to identify that discomfort and the language to express it!

What I'm suggesting brings us back to your first question. Looking closely and compassionately at how we relate to kids, how we respect them, and what we teach them requires that we think courageously and deeply about all sorts of assumptions we have about gender, power, and authority.

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Comments

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Men and Feminism

Wow, a book about how feminism can benefit men and why men should get involved that totally fails to enunciate even a single male problem (besides the old cliche/insult of being cut off emotionally ) or what feminism can do to help them solve it. Instead apparently the benefit to men is that we can help women by taking responsibility for all their problems and shutting up about any of our own. From the interview, this book sounds like a bad parody of feminism.

And you wonder why feminism is a dying movement that is failing to reproduce itself.

Why does anyone need direct

Why does anyone need direct gain in order to help someone in need?

Besides, the faster "How to get a Man" books/magazines are stamped out, the fewer headaches men will have in their dating lives.

How Can He Be So Clueless?

Who said anything about "dating?" Why do some men only think of women only as sex objects to be conquered or mothers/sisters/daughters... who need to be protected from those dater-thinking-men? Protected from what? This is the perfect example of inequality. If men and women thought of each other as equal and actually cared for each other as individuals (not for what they can get from each other), respect could come naturally.

If these men, and some women too, would only EDUCATE themselves about the issue, try to see this issue from male, female and in between perspectives, they might learn something about themselves and grow from it.

I for one think many women perpetuate the problem by being hyper-sexual toward men in order to complete themselves or to land a rich man so they can take the easy way out instead of taking responsibility for their own economical well-being.

On another note, isn't it all about perception anyway? If one could think outside the box of what mainstream culture advertises as the "role" of a woman or man, everyone would be much better off. I have observed in homosexual communities, the role of "the daddy" to take care of a man or the lesbian butch-femme roles, which mimic heterosexual male/female roles. This flies in the face of equality and feminist principles. In the homosexual community, I would hope they would be more aware of what they were perpetuating and the damage they do to the ideal of equality for all.

On the contrary

I have not read the book, but based on the interview, I cannot see how the author intends for men to take responsibility for "women's problems" (violence against women, rape, and social inequality are everybody's problems) or for men to "shut up" about their own problems. The author is trying to make men aware of how they can treat women with basic respect, educate themselves and others about how to be respectful and fair, and take responsibility for their own actions of violence against women - instead of blaming the victims of crime and violence, we should shift the focus to those who commit acts of violence against women and actively recognize the perpetrators. The author discusses the issue of hypermasculine culture and how it can be oppressive to both men and women. Certainly, the pressure to act hypermasculine, especially when that includes being derogatory to women or other groups of people, is a man's problem and not one that men should be quiet about. On the contrary, that's an issue that the author seems to want to discuss openly so that young men can be aware of how a "manly" culture that devalues and degrades women has a negative impact on young men and everyone around them, and how to talk about how the pressure to act hypermasculine makes them feel, too.

It may seem obvious to some of us, but unfortunately, we still face these issues.

Really?

I suspect the author has never heard of http://www.nomas.org/, The Violence Against Women Act, any domestic shelter organizations in her area such as the House of Ruth, nor about mandatory arrest DV laws? There's already billions of dollars being spent the problem of domestic violence, a problem that can affect men as well in not-so-rare cases, and yet what have feminists to say to that?

Here is what a typical male will be told if he tries to help a feminist organization:
A. He has all the power and privileges when compared to women. They have none at all. Thus he should always be silent and never argue or offer different perspectives when they speak and should always defer to them. Their priorities will always come first.
B. Everything that happens that feminists disapprove of is because of the "patriarchy" and he is already a member and benefiting just because he has an XY chromosome.
C. He has few, or any real problems, any that does have is because of the patriarchy (meaning all women are off the hook) and either these problems will magically go away during that glorious magical day when the patriarchy is vanished or that's the time that feminism will finally get around to addressing them.
D. His sexuality is suspect and he is potentially a rapist and potentially an abuser. Women of course, are none of these things in any numbers that need to be looked at or worried about.
E. The fact that muslims in some countries do not allow women to vote and allow wife beating is something that he, as a western man should be ashamed of, and because of that women in western countries are still oppressed because all men benefit from all patriarchy everywhere.

To put it quite bluntly, every word she's been quoted in this interview was already said and asserted by other feminists over the past ten to twenty years. If modern feminism was an egalitarian movement that truly cared about the harms that "gender rules" do men it would be doing much more activism on behalf of men and asking men who joined it what their concerns were. Until this happens, this book can be considered nothing but one sided propaganda and the movement will continue to die. I certainly won't lift a finger to help feminism in the west, though I might send some aid to the women in some of the countries feminists here claim to care so much about.

Why not read a few essays in the book?

I've read the essays in this book, and I would suggest the above poster gives a few of them a look.

Written by men about their unique male experiences, there's a huge diversity of voices and honest experiences. Some of the above frustrations of being a man interested in working with feminist organizations are given voice, sometimes defended and sometimes challenged. Some essays are funny and some are heartbreaking, covering topics from domestic violence to hip-hop to who picks up the check on a date.

Having real conversations about men and feminism is important, fascinating and long overdue.

As a feminist who works with feminist men

Clarence, you are right about the issues and confusion surrounding male victims and men within the sphere of domestic violence. It is a difficult thing to talk about and an issue that I myself am unsure of. Part of the problem is that numerous organizations give a wide variety of statistics; some numbers will say spousal abuse is perpetuated equally by both sides and others give more blame to one gender over the other (not to mention the studies done on same sex relationships, which can also complicate the issue of gender violence). In other words, it is hard to get true facts about anything, because there are statistics and studies to cite all the different claims. But the issues concerning men that you sigh are much cause for debate, and given that the VAWA will be rewritten soon, there will be room to make modifications as needed.

As for your claims about what men will be told if they join a feminist organization, I cannot speak for all organizations, but I CAN speak for the men in the organization that I work with, which is, by the way, a pro-feminist organization founded by men and whose services are geared towards men. Our office in a place in which the men and women have equitable and understanding relationships, women do not ever make accusations about how the men "have no problems" or are "potential abusers."

We recognize that yes, in a sexist society, men may have more power and privileges (albeit sometimes subtle) than women, but men still suffer and are harmed by patriarchy.The men in our organization feel this is true and it is precisely why they fight patriarchy and sexism and they do the work that they do; they want to help other men as well as women. For example, it is sexism that says men are naturally more violent than woman, that men are potential abusers. This hurts men and women in the long run. Is this sexist belief guided by the philosophy of feminism? I cannot say, I think in some ways it can be, not because feminism seeks to bring down men, but because it seeks to bring down patriarchy, which to many outsiders and even a few feminists (I believe) is a term that can become synonymous with men. (Thus feminism becomes construed as a "man hating" cause). (But we also live in a society which encourages men to be violent. I doubt THAT is the result of feminist work).

Please know, however, that when feminists speak against patriarchy, they do not speak against individual men, but institutions that perpetuate sexist attitudes. We do not fight against men or women, it is not a fight of gender vs. gender. Rather, we seek to understand the complexities surrounding gender, politics and power and apply our understanding so as to benefit society. Will there be mistakes along the way? Yes. But applying theory to real life will always bring at least some errors with it, you can be sure of that no matter what the guiding theory is (I think we can all agree, for example, that liberals, conservatives etc. makes mistakes in their decisions all the time).

But to meet you where you are, feminism IS doing work that benefits men. We have finally reached a step in which both men and women realize how necessary this is, and there are a growing number of pro-feminist and feminist organizations for men and/or run by men. It is these organizations that are building bridges between men and women, that want to work for a place where men and women work together to fight sexism. Are there difficulties along the way? Certainly, but we keep on working through them.

Whew, who knows if Clarence will even read this.

Thank you!

Well I read it, and other people will, and I really appreciate you speaking to your experiences and hopefully, perhaps, clarifying some misconceptions about men in feminist organizations.

____________
Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
Did someone say "Comments Policy"?

Uh, no.

Sorry Clarence, but as a male who works at a feminist organization (Bitch Media), what you are saying has no basis, at least in my reality.

Have you worked for a feminist organization or are you just speculating?

Brian Frank, Bitch Media's Finance and Technology Director

Ever wonder what Bitch Media's Comments Policy is?

article

Here is another article that is related to the topic of recognizing violence against women for what it is. These are lessons about consent and respect that far too few young people are taught these days:
http://www.womanist-musings.com/2009/08/its-not-sex-its-rape.html

Excellent book; excellent interview

I appreciate both of Shira Tarrant's books very much, but I am very alarmed at some of the comments here. "I am sick of feminism...Go f*ck yourselves and get raped...the same old cliches about men" and so forth.

If you hate feminists and feminism so much, why are you guys reading B*tch magazine, anyway? Why read Tarrant's article or her book if your mind is made up?

Rather than bringing the same arguments to bear, Tarrant takes a fresh look at feminism, violence against women, and what men can do to end sexism and constraining male conditioning. How can that not benefit men?

Having our complete range of emotional expression is nothing to be scoffed at, since it's the basis for our humanity. And all of us - even the guys who posted here, I dare say - have women in our lives that we care about. These women face sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexism every day of their lives. For their sake and ours, we guys need to speak up against sexism and constrained gender roles. Tarrant's work is a bold step forward towards these goals.

Herbert's column

Just wanted to put in a good word for Bob Herbert--his "Women at Risk" is not the first time he's called out male violence, hyper-masculinity, violence against women and the like. He's not a Johnny-come-lately. Mr. Herbert has been using his bully pulpit for years in ways that advance feminism -- which is why he is one of my male heroes--along with Jackson Katz, Victor Lewis, Michael Kimmel, and other good men.
signed,
Have a daughter--it'll make you a feminist.

Keep it together, please

While we understand that some folks have strong opinions on men and feminism, please remember that this is a public forum and it is NOT OK to use hateful language, make threats, or otherwise insult other commenters. Feel free, of course, to state your opinion on the matter at hand, but we insist that you refrain from asshole-y attacks at all costs. We have deleted those comments, and will continue to do so.

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Kelsey Wallace, web editor

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

I rather enjoyed this blog

I rather enjoyed this blog and would like to pass along a great example Tarrant talks about - http://www.mencanstoprape.org/. Men Can Stop Rape is a great organization who's mission is "[t]o mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men's violence against women." As far as Clarence comments on a "typical" response to a man helping a feminist organization, I can only speak from personal experience, but I (a male) have never had anything near those responses from the feminist organizations I help over the years.

hmmmm.

be positive and they will come. blokes want to help out. but are often simply unsure how. offer practical suggestions, and don't allow them to feel like they are being "attacked". and drop the "hypermasculinity" theme/bogeyman, it is wrong. there are not "types" of men but "situations". this book needed more from critical masculinity studies and needed more in-depth research. its theoretical underpinnings are at time somewhat flawed and have been challenged for over ten years. for example, men negotiate emotions everyday and express them, just in different ways that they have learned are accepted in their masculinity-inflected and homosocial networks eg. through talking about (read as "through") someone else like a sports star. this book re-entrenches a lot of myths about masculinity. hence the reactive response from some men. the intention was excellent, but perhaps the execution needed further consideration?

kindest regards

- clifton evers.

hypermasculinity

When we speak of "hypermasculinity" it seems that we're speaking of a form of "masculinity" that defines itself by what it isn't - nelly, sensitive, gay, feminine, feminist - than what it is. Too often, that is because what it is isn't much.

What is called for, in my opinion, is re-defining masculinity. What's happening right now is that masculinity is being re-defined in an erotic context - men are sexy and need more products. Men can be ornaments, just like women. It is enough for a man to be the subject of the gaze. And, as I noted before, men need more products to hold that gaze - many more.

What is also happening is that masculinity as traditionally constructed: provider, defender of the family and property, has not taken into account the drastic acceleration of technology. Where once rocks and brute strength were the weapons, now, a single bomb can wipe out or seriously wound a hundred people. A blockade can starve thousands more. A big bomb can wipe out millions. The means got much more deadly, but in too many men, the masculine prerogative for violence as a tool didn't moderate accordingly, it grew right along with the technology.

What we men need is a masculinity that doesn't draw its strength from the ability to demean, shred, own, terrify or slaughter others. What we need is a masculinity that draws strength from its ability to not do that. We need a masculinity that recognizes just how contemptible and pitiable the rapist is in his need to draw what he imagines to be strength by terrorizing, injuring and invading someone who does not want him. We need a masculinity which can draw well-articulated boundaries and is equally good at respecting others'.

I think women have an enormous amount of work to do, too. I think that far too much attention has been paid to the predicament of Ms. Ivy League, who decided to chuck her law training to stay home and take care of the kids and live off her husband's enormous salary, and Ms. Board Member, who feels she was denied CEO in favor of a dumb-but-connected man, and far too little has been paid to Ms. WalMart, who can't get a decent salary, health insurance and child care while she's working, or Ms. Starbuck's barrista, who must breast pump in the ladies room, while her higher-up corporate "sisters" have a special room with a sofa set aside for the same function.

Oh, brother.

I was rolling with you there until the last paragraph. My first problem with your last paragraph is that it's incorrect. I'm assuming that you're suggesting that women have framed feminism in terms of the needs and problems of upper middle class women. What you're suggesting is that women haven't identified this as a problem, and because of a preoccupation with choice issues faced by upper middle class women, aren't talking enough about the struggles faced by poor or working class women.

You're wrong. Well, you're sort of wrong. Some women are talking about "Ms. Starbucks" and "Ms. Ivy League" while some women might be solely concerned with one or the other. Women aren't a monolith and neither is feminism, so you get that kind of messy shit. My second problem with your last paragraph, then, is that it's condescending and adversarial. Shouldn't you also be concerned about child care? Should women specifically being taken to task about that?

It's also disappointing, because I hoped you were going to take it somewhere different. I hoped you were going to say that if men need to develop a different kind of masculinity, then women need to support them. Instead, you ended an otherwise insightful comment about masculinity with a dig on women. Why? What's that going to accomplish?